Do One Thing Well

A year from now, what will I wish I had done today?” – unknown

Deep into the section on expectations in Brené Brown’s book Atlas of the Heart, I had a huge a-ha moment. She was talking about a conversation with her husband in which they both confessed to each other that they had an easier time parenting on the weekends they did it solo. Because they set aside their expectations to be able to do anything other than parent for that weekend.

This put a shape to the experience I have had as a single parent. Because I never expect that someone else will take the night shift or be there on the weekend, I have had to set really clear boundaries on the work and hobbies that I do because I know I won’t be able to duck out for a couple of hours.

That means that nights and weekends, I pretty much focus on hanging out with my kids. I do get a few chores around the house done with their “help.” The tradeoff for giving up Saturday morning hiking with my friends has been the gift of not believing I can try to do both things.

I know many of my parenting friends do an incredibly great job of splitting up the parental labor. One person will do the 9am-noon shift on Saturdays so that the other can go swimming and then they switch and the other gets “time off.” I have a pretty good inkling that if I was doing parenting with a partner that I would try for that approach and be a lot more confused about what I could handle.

I don’t know who said “Do one thing at a time and do it well.” My mom? Winnie-the-Pooh? Or maybe it’s not ascribed to a particular person because everyone who has learned the wisdom repeats it. When I wrote the post a couple of weeks ago about being invited to climb a mountain this summer, so many of my dear and wise blogging friends reminded me that parenting goes fast and there will likely be time to return to my hobbies later.

I believe that at some point I will have a partner again and more personal freedom. However, there isn’t anything I would trade for this uncomplicated time where I learned to really spend time with my children and enjoy it. Sometimes not having help forces us to distinctly draw boundaries we wouldn’t know to set otherwise.

(featured photo from Pexels)

In The Middle

The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

A little while ago my 6-year-old daughter went to a friend’s house to watch a movie. When she came home that night and for the couple weeks afterwards, she was so much more solicitous of me. “Mom, do you want a glass of water?” or “I’m sorry you banged your hand.” So I dug deeper into the storyline of the Netflix family movie Over the Moon. Not surprisingly, it’s about a little girl whose mom died from cancer.

I don’t want my kids operating from a space of worry about me. But I was fascinated about the noticeable change of behavior. It suggested how much our awareness is influenced by our focus.

So I was listening carefully when I heard author Susan Cain describe the research of Dr. Laura Carstensen on Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast. Dr. Carstensen is a professor of psychology at Stanford specializing in the psychology of older people. Here’s Susan Cain’s description of the research:

“[The] elderly tend to be happier and more full of gratitude, more invested in depth relationships, more prone to states of well-being. She has linked all of that with the fact… not as we might think that we get older and have acquired all this wisdom from the years we’ve lived. It has nothing to do with that, it only has to do with the fact that when you are older you have a sense of life’s fragility. You know it’s coming to an end.

“Younger people who for other reasons are in fragile situations [also exhibit this]. She studied students in Hong Kong who were worried about Chinese rule at the end of the 20th century. They have the exact same psychological profile as older people did. Because the constant was the fragility.”

Susan Cain describing the research of Dr. Laura Carstensen

Since at 52-years-old I’m closer to the middle of my life (hopefully) rather than the end, it begs the question of how to cultivate an appreciation for relationships, health and the good times. Especially to enjoy them without the sense of fragility that I understand but don’t quite viscerally get yet.

This made me ponder the nature of the middle and I realize I couldn’t name a middle of something that I really savored – the middle of the day, the middle of a meal, the middle of a relationship, the middle of a project, the middle of my body. (That is, other than being in the middle of my children, as shown in the featured photo.) Especially when it comes to projects (and maybe even days), I’m always in a rush to get to the end so that I can celebrate and then start a new one.

Someone wisely pointed out that we can’t remember things we don’t pay attention to. So I’ve started taking a brief pause in the middle of the day to just notice how things are going. It’s a small practice that I hope will help me appreciate the middle of my life more.

I was thinking about what to say to my daughter about the movie and death when one night she said, “I’d be kinda sad to die but also a little interested. I have to see the way the rest of my life works out and I’d miss you. But it’ll probably be your turn first.” And then all the solicitousness was gone. Which is fine. I want my kids’ memories and mine to be defined by not what we worry about but what we pay attention to.

What about you? Do you rush right past the middle or do you have a way to mark the middle of a journey?